The Sangha House, its background, Buddhist basis and approach

My name is Andy Spragg. I have been a practising Buddhist for around 26 years now. My personal story with Buddhism started because of a tumour in my hip joint at quite a young age. Although not malignant the tumour was spreading and by the time it was operated on it was in 7 different places in the head of the hip. This was an extremely frightening and humbling experience and I started to reach out to religion to make some sense out of my experience. I read the Bible, the Koran and also some rather off-beat spiritual approaches. I then found a small book in a second hand bookshop. A beginners guide to Buddhism. It hit the nail on the head for me, seeming to come from exactly the same place as I was apparently heading. So I found a local Buddhist group and started practising.

I have never been ordained into a Buddhist order. Coming close once or twice but choosing to stay connected to my current world but practising within it. I have primarily practiced with the monks at Ameravati and with Triratna and order members from the Cambridge Buddhist Centre. Ameravati introduced me to traditional Buddhist scripture and approach but Triratna, which always strives to make Buddhism accessible in the west taught me how to take those traditional teachings more personal. Allowing to fully connect with the Dhamma.

Although interested in all aspects of Buddhism, because of my experience and training I would describe myself as Theravada, in terms of approach. I am also a Tai Chi teacher after 30 years training in this art and my Tai Chi is now also a key part of my regular practice and I like to combine Tai Chi with meditation. The two are not dissimilar.

For 13 years, my wife and I ran our own retreat organisation (Re-Vitalise). It became very successful and at its height was running 2 retreats a month. During this time I honed my own teaching style and approach. Teaching Dhamma by drawing on traditional Buddhist teaching and combining it with my own understanding and practice. The retreats covered Yoga, Tai Chi, Mindfulness and meditation and we welcomed in both beginners and experienced practitioners. It was also during this period that I understood more and more that Buddhism is a religion for the modern age and strived to teach in such a way that would strip away some of the myth and magic (that often appears in the popular press) and could support anyone. Whatever their particular way of life or even personal religion. We had plenty of people following Christian and Muslim faiths who enjoyed and learned a lot from our retreats. However, running the retreats was exhausting for us as we ran them alongside our day jobs. Five years ago we decided to put plans in place for our own centre and 18 months ago we opened The Sangha House.

The main underlying influence for the house is mindfulness. Everything that we do in the centre, in some way, re-enforces mindfulness practice. Its main offering is the practice of Holistic Health, where Buddhist teaching and meditation are a part of a whole.

Holistic health has become a bit of a catch-all for anything that doesn’t fit in to the modern model of western medicine and the treatments available through the NHS. These holistic treatments are sometimes seen as a little “wacky” or “out-there”

Last year, the Sangha House made it all the way through to be finalists for two prestigious awards here in Somerset. Voted as finalists for ‘Best new business’ Up against some 200 other companies we got through. This year we have again been listed as a finalist and are waiting to see if we will win! Competing against other more traditional businesses such as recruitment firms or clothing manufacturers, we were selected. Denise and I have been working in this sector for about 13 years now so it was deeply rewarding to have the types of practice we offer in the house, recognised as legitimate and professional and our aim with the Sangha House is to keep taking these practices forward into mainstream health promotion.

Its main aim is to offer holistic health and in this, we strive to cover all for aspects of Holistic Health.  The Physical, the mental, the social and the spiritual. My Tai Chi and Buddhist practices influences the direction of these 4 quadrants, but we have many other practices in the house. We have Yoga, Pilates, Qi Gong, Secular Mindfulness teaching, massage, Reflexology, counselling, acupuncture, hypnotherapy and many other therapies and disciplines. But all of these sit under the common roof of the Sangha House which has, as its motto – “Strength in our Differences, Comfort where we Overlap”.

My Buddhist practice has helped us to steer the Sangha House in a particular direction. Therefore from the social side we constantly strive to emphasize an inclusive and caring environment. On the mental side, the main emphasis is on mindfulness practice and meditation supported by the formal therapies of Counselling, acupuncture and hypnotherapy. On the spiritual side, the main offering is Dhamma. This year, the Tibetan teacher Choden, from Samye Ling joined us and held a series of workshops and meditations on compassion. Over the next 12 months we hope to bring Gelong Thubten, another very experienced Tibetan teacher here, and also Ajahn Jutindharo, the senior monk at Hartridge Monastery (The Devon Vihara, Thai Forest Tradition). But we do bring other spiritual practices into the house, particularly as my wife Denise is a practising Christian herself.  Just recently we also had a Sufi group performing some of Rumi’s poetry and music from their tradition.